We live on what was a dairy farm for the better part of a century. It was one of hundreds of dairy farms in Big Stone County. Now there are three. And at least one of those three would like to throw in the towel.
I watch our own dairy infrastructure degrade before my eyes. The milk parlor now fills with water in the spring. The roof of the milk house needs repair. It's been 15 years since cows were milked here. One night over dinner as I talked about how this could be a dairy farm again, my usually calm husband raised his voice and pounded his fist on the table and said "I will not start milking again!" Days later one of the kids said to me "Dad really doesn't want to milk, does he?!" He was a dairyman into his late 20's and then worked in the U's dairy barns. Guess he thinks that's enough.
Mike was one of many thousands of Big Stone County kids raised milking cows. He learned how to look for good genetics (and built his own fine quality herd), how to raise calves, care for large animals, haul manure, feed and water cattle, to say nothing of milking. Right now I know of only one teenage boy in the county who is receiving this hands on education.
A couple weeks ago I was asked to talk to an environmental communications class at the U on how agriculture is included in environmental discussions and decision making. I asked the room of about 40 people:
How many of you were raised on farms? (answer 2)
How many of your parents were raised on farms? (answer 10)
How many of your grandparents were raised on farms? (answer 30)
Think about this societal change we've experienced in just 3 generations. What keeps me awake is that we are becoming so far removed from so many skills so fast. I just can't help thinking that we lose these widespread skills at our own peril. So we get down to having a few dozen people in the State who could run a dairy farm. Then what?
I asked that same class:
How many of you aspire to be farmers? (answer 1) One proud young woman shot her arm enthusiastically into the air. Here's hoping- eh?